Past NVC winners reflect on successes, business failures


2015 New Venture Competition winners Samantha and Joseph Pina pose on on April 4 at Ace of Diamonds in downtown Mount Pleasant. The brother-sister team received $10,000 last year from the competition.

When her cosmetics company ran out of funds, alumna Shannon O'Donald had a difficult time not feeling the sting.

"I looked at it as a failure, like a black mark. It made me really uncomfortable," she said. "I was really disappointed in myself."

Central Michigan Life tracked down some of the New Venture Competition's past winners to see where they are now and how their businesses are faring.

O'Donald's business, Shannon Evans Cosmetics, won $1,000 from the first ever New Venture Competition in 2011 for giving the best elevator pitch in the contest. Her business went under from lack of funds four years later, and now she lives in the heart of Seattle working for Crown Social, a social media agency that serves big clients like Amazon and Microsoft.

O'Donald said there was a time she probably would have said she regretted creating the cosmetics company. Then she learned to view the venture a different way.

"I started realizing there are no entrepreneurs out there who have not failed at least once," she said. " Now I absolutely embrace it — and it is a great interview question to say this is how I started and failed my own business."

Some of the early mistakes she made included creating an entire line of cosmetics. She thinks it would have been better to have focused on creating one revolutionary product at a time.

"I put too much money into developing the products early on, and I should have saved more money for advertizing and giving the company longevity," she said.

After New Venture, O'Donald self-funded her company for four years while taking on internships. She went back to CMU for biochemistry, but left school for Seattle two years ago and joined Crown Social when it was still a start-up company. 

When asked about how she feels about her experiences after NVC, O'Donald said "I feel like a success story."

Growing success: Episcura

Last year's best overall New Venture Winners received $30,000 worth of capital for their business. The winning start-up, Episcura, was created by alumni Patrick McAvena, Chris Green, Kurt Baringer and Christian Day.

Episcura is an online stock media service that sells stock photography, textures and other images royalty-free to artists. They launched in June and hit 10,000 subscribers last month. 

McAvena said Episcura also got attention from various business and artist publications over the summer, which helped them get several online users. The company has been growing, learning how to optimize the business and market to the public using word-of-mouth.

"When we initially won the grant, we were still in the process of finishing the development of our website," McAvena said. "The grant was a big help."

In addition to marketing, the founders have been working on building up their library of content for users. They are the primary image-creators, but have also hired additional staff.

"We still have a long way to go, but it has been a really cool year to see how people perceive and are using our product," McAvena said.

Getting on its feet: Revolve Replication

Samantha and Joseph Pina are a brother-sister team that received $10,000 from NVC for the "Most Impact on Michigan" award last year.

They took a six-month break before pursuing their business idea after graduation. The Pinas have been working for their aunt Kriss Roethlisberger at the Ace of Diamonds jewelry store on in Mount Pleasant.  

"That (six-month break) is kind of uncommon for a New Venture," Samantha said. "Generally people get up and going, but Joe and I were graduating at the same time and life hit us right after that, so we had to make a couple of personal decisions for ourselves."  

The siblings have been working with jewelry for Roethlisberger for several year.

Revolve Replication's premise is to create a scan system for independent jewelers. That scanner would hook up to a 3D computer assisted design program that would allow jewelers to make custom modifications and view them instantly on the computor screen. 

"At Revolve Replication, we focus on creating a scanner so a customer can bring in any piece of jewelry, whether it's broken, something that can never be signed, there is something they never liked about it, and they can bring that item into us so we can scan it, customize and modify it more than ever before," Samantha said. 

They call their business Revolve Replication, which currently works inside of Roethlisberger's Jewelry store. The Pinas siblngs are still in the development phase with the scanner, but said they hope one day jewelers will be able to use the system to create their own custom pieces.

"Central really stood behind us to make sure we were making the right decisions for ourselves and our business," Samantha said. "Things are going great."


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